New research study revises date of dog domestication


A new research study that used a sophisticated 3D fossil analysis sensitive enough to capture subtleties places the domestication of dogs to the Neolithic era, approximately 15,000 years later than previously believed. The study was published in Scientific Reports, an online journal of the Nature Publishing Group, on Feb. 5.

"Previous research has claimed that dogs emerged in the Paleolithic [era] but this claim is based on inaccurate analyses," lead author Abby Grace Drake, a visiting professor of biology at Skidmore College, told Discovery News. "We reanalyzed some of the fossil canids from the Paleolithic [era] and show that they are, in fact, wolves."

The 3D technology Drake and her team used had previously been used to study human fossils, but never to identify members of the canid family.

"Scientists have been eager to put a collar on the earliest domesticated dog for years," Drake told CTV News. "Unfortunately their analyses weren’t sensitive enough to accurately determine the identity of these fossils. The difference between a German shepherd skull and a wolf skull is subtle—you need to measure it in 3D to reliably tell which is which—and the same is true for these fossils." Drake and her team can determine if a skull is from a dog or wolf with a 96% accuracy rate.

"Dog domestication occurred during the Neolithic [era] when wolves began to scavenge near human settlements…. The establishment of permanent settlements in the Neolithic era would have created an environment where sustained selection for tameness could exist for many generations, thus setting the stage for dog domestication," Drake noted.

Previously, a Swedish study had found that the early ancestors of modern dogs adapted their meat-eating wolf diets to a starch-rich human diet that, over time, played a crucial role in the early domestication of dogs.

With that in mind, Happy Valentine’s Day to man’s (now) best friend.

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